Photo by Julie Dermansky
New research indicates that elementary-age students who participated in the Lynch School of Education's City Connects, the Boston College-based comprehensive support intervention program, had a lower high school drop-out rate than non-participating peers, according to a study posted online today in AERA Open, a peer-reviewed journal published by the American Educational Research Association.
For 894 Boston Public Schools students who participated in the intervention from kindergarten through fifth grade, the study estimated a 9.2-percent dropout rate in high school, compared to a 16.6-percent rate for the 10,200 non-intervention students, according to "The Long-Term Impact of Systemic Support in Elementary School: Reducing High School Dropout." The research was conducted at Boston College with several layers of independent scrutiny and review.
"Our findings suggest that the individually tailored and coordinated student support interventions during elementary school can lead to lasting and meaningful effects," said study co-author and City Connects Executive Director Mary E. Walsh, the Kearns Professor of Urban Education and Innovative Leadership at BC's Lynch School of Education. "There are many pathways to school dropout. A comprehensive intervention in elementary school that addresses a wide range of out-of-school factors can disrupt those pathways, supporting strengths and building resilience."
The students in the study entered kindergarten in 2000–01 through 2004–05 and were followed through 2013–14. Six of the district’s approximately 125 elementary schools participated in the City Connects program continuously during this period. These students were compared to students who were simultaneously enrolled in the same school district as the City Connects students but did not attend an intervention-participating school.
The district recommended schools for participation in the program based in part on where the intervention was most needed. The researchers note that the six participating schools had significantly lower academic achievement than the comparison schools before program implementation.
“Despite the promise of this type of comprehensive approach to intervention, efforts targeting dropout often are highly focused, directing attention to one or two specific needs—usually academic and behavioral—instead of to a wide range of both strengths and needs,” said Walsh. “In addition, such efforts tend to be aimed solely at high school students, and therefore, in some cases, may come too late.”
According to the researchers, students fail to complete high school for complex reasons that often develop long before they reach high school. Their process of academic disengagement is influenced by a mix of in- and out-of-school factors, including academic, socio-emotional, family-related, and societal.
Prior research found that many factors affect dropout such as poor academic performance in elementary, middle, and high school; a low sense of belonging in school; negative classroom behavior; and scant involvement in extracurricular activities. Graduation rates are also significantly lower for black and Hispanic youth, for male students, and for students from low-income families, single-parent households, and families where parents had low educational achievement.
Across all Boston Public Schools serving students in kindergarten through fifth grade during the time of the study, more than 90 percent of the students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch and approximately 90 percent were minority students, the researchers report.
Our findings suggest that the individually tailored and coordinated student support interventions during elementary school can lead to lasting and meaningful effects...A comprehensive intervention in elementary school that addresses a wide range of out-of-school factors can disrupt those pathways, supporting strengths and building resilience.
In each participating school, a full-time coordinator, who is a master’s degree–level licensed school counselor or social worker, meets with every classroom teacher and other school staff to review every student, every year. The coordinator and staff discuss each child’s strengths and needs in academics, social/emotional/behavioral development, health, and family support. Since not every factor that may influence dropout presents itself as a “red flag,” this approach allows the less obvious factors to be identified and addressed early.
“Some students are 'quiet dropouts,' meaning they may not be identified as being at-risk in usual school settings,” said Walsh.
With a secure, proprietary database, each student in the intervention is linked to a tailored set of services and enrichment opportunities in the school or community that address their unique strengths and needs, with the school coordinator following up throughout the year. The database provides reminders, prompts, and automated reports that are designed to make the coordinator’s work more efficient and allow reporting to principals and others in the school.
“Dropping out of high school has serious individual and social consequences, including hurting employment possibilities, lifetime earnings, and physical health,” said Walsh. “During the period we looked at, we estimate that the program led to approximately 375 fewer dropouts over the course of high school.
“Given that each new high school graduate has been estimated to yield societal benefits of $260,300 over a dropout, staying in high school rather than dropping out is highly meaningful, with an estimated $97.6 million return to society from the groups examined in this study,” Walsh said.
Over the past 20 years, City Connects has been implemented in over 100 elementary and K–8 schools across Boston, Springfield, and Salem, Mass.; New York City; Dayton and Springfield, Ohio; Hartford, Conn.; Minneapolis; and Indianapolis, Ind.
The American Educational Research Association (AERA) is the largest national interdisciplinary research association devoted to the scientific study of education and learning. Founded in 1916, AERA advances knowledge about education, encourages scholarly inquiry related to education, and promotes the use of research to improve education and serve the public good.
University Communications | AERA | October 2018